Monsters Of The Week: The Complete Critical Companion To The X-Files by Zack Handlen & Todd Vanderwerff (book review).

I have to confess some confusion with the title of Zack Handlen and Todd Vanderwerff book, ‘Monsters Of The Week: The Complete Critical Companion To The X-Files’ as I thought it was about what creatures Mulder and Scully encountered every week when I first selected it. Just goes to show, it pays to pay attention sub-titles. The writers, as explained in the multiple introductions, including one from Chris Carter, have written essays on-line about ‘The X-Files’ and now have it out there in book form.

Don’t expect to see an episode by episode synopsis as they expect you to know your subject matter, although I think there should have been more memory joggers with the later seasons. What they are doing is expressing some analysis of the story elements and their thoughts on the subject. They aren’t writing together necessarily and are often writing apart on different episodes.

I like the fact that they do identify other characters actors in the course of this book and the occasional one’s like Xander Berkley and Zeljo Ivanek have risen in popularity over the years. I’m less sure about the connection to ‘Twin Peaks’, though. Both series were filmed in Canada, so it stands for reason and necessity that Canadian actors would be used in both shows. If Carter truly wanted to make a stronger connection, then surely he would have used some of ‘Twin Peaks’ American stars. Indeed, the footnote comment on page 77 testifies from Carter that they used the Vancouver-based actors often 5 times over in different roles.

I should point out that there is the occasional time-out with interviews with various writers from the series giving their own insights.

Something that I can be critical about is how the episode title and minimal credits are so small compared to the sub-title and main text when really you do want it the other way around just to keep track if you want to dig something out quickly.

I’m not sure if I agree with them that teacher Phyliss Paddock in ‘Die Hand Die Verletzt’ was the devil as its clear she was a witch sorting out a bad coven.

Don’t think this book is laden with plot details. Poor Queequeg, Scully’s dog, could have gone on to greater things.

Some mistakes will stick out. They say it was the eldest son who stayed with his mother in ‘Home’. I looked this up on the Net and they say the same thing so this might be a collective error. The way Mrs. Peacock talks to her son prior to driving away at the end about knowing Sherman and George tends to suggest this is her youngest son Edmund. I mean if Edmund was the oldest why would she be glad he had spent some time with Sherman and George for their experience if he was the oldest? It would be the other way around.

Season 4’s ‘Leonard Betts’ is considered one of their favourite stories and the way the detail of their appraisals goes up from that point shows the effect it had on them.

There is one question that comes out of ‘Little Potatoes’ is that Eddie Van Blundht’s four children are likely to have his same shift-shaping ability. However, their focus is more on whether Van Blundht raped the four women which I’m less sure about. Misrepresenting himself in different guises definitely but rape is a violent act against an unwilling person which doesn’t appear to be the case. Had the real people or at least their representation of Luke Skywalker had turned up, then they would surely have been persuaded to have had sex with them.

Season 5’s appraisal of ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’ has to be their longest running at 6½ pages. Some episodes only reach a page but reading through this book, you can easily spot where both writers lose their enthusiasm from time to time.

There is a sense of lagging in both writers as they write about Season 6 and production moving to California. It’s a shame that neither of them knew or considered the reason for actor Nicholas Lea’s absence for a year as he was in John Woo’s ‘Once A Thief’ for a season. That show’s worth a look by the way. With the episode ‘Agua Mala’, they wonder why freshwater can beat the salt water tentacles. I would have thought that was easy, freshwater diluted it.

I often think the contribution of Mark Snow’s music adds to the tone of each episode is something often overlooked even here.

In some respects, I’m grateful that the footnotes are on the same pages at the main text. Just a shame that the superscript numbers are too small to find easily. In most cases, I can’t see why the footnotes couldn’t have been incorporated into the main text.

I spread my reading of the advance copy of this book over a few weeks so I could maintain my own freshness and this is probably the best way to read this book as it is a really long read. Much of this book is their opinions than deep analysis. In terms of selling points, the sections with mini-interviews with Chris Carter and his writers is required reading. More so as he had no set plans for the mythology other than letting it grow organically. The fact that it also contains the latest two seasons of ‘The X-Files’ which brings something earlier books haven’t covered.

My criticisms above are just some of the things you might take to task yourselves but as this book is mostly opinion pieces then you are allowed to disagree or even agree. As such, the book does make for an interesting read if you want to supplement your watching of ‘The X-Files’ again.

GF Willmetts

November 2018

(pub: Abrams Press. 488 page hardback. Price: £21.99 (UK), $30.00 (US), $38.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-4197-3247-8)

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